Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by:Vince McKewin
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Orlando Jones, Jack Warden
Released: November 9, 2000
Grade: B-

The players’ strike began officially at 4pm.  Washington team owner Ed O’Neil (Warden) calls in friend and former coach Jimmy McGinty (Hackman) to round up a team of “replacements” within a week.  Washington needs to win three of their last four games to make the playoffs.

McGinty wants total control over team selection.  His list of players consists entirely of “has beens” and those that “never were” but they’ve all caught the eye of McGinty some time over his career.  His quarterback is Shane Falco (Reeves), a college star who choked four years ago in the Sugarbowl (when the team lost by 45 points) and was never heard from again.

Athletes don’t often get a second chance but for this team, that opportunity has been presented to them.  They’ve got nothing to lose and everything to play for.  A chance to make amends for past disappointments.

The pitiful screenplay from Vince McKewin (Fly Away Home) takes stereotypes to an unattainable level.  Every team member has their own heartbreak story and it’s tiring to listen to and believe them all.  Reeves has a love interest in Brooke Langton which nothing more than a frivolous distraction.  It’s as if the story doesn’t know what it wants to be.  It tries to throw in laughs, romance, drama, action and in the end, it adds up to a zero interest value.

What they were thinking in getting Howard Deutch to direct?  Just look at his last two films, Grumpier Old Men and The Odd Couple 2, and one tells you that he’s not a guy who’ll bring flair to this production.  His direction is flat and when compared against that of Oliver Stone’s in this year’s other big football flick, Any Given Sunday, it looks even worse.  The football scenes were confusing and I could  not understand his insistence on showing the cheergirls every ten seconds.

As much as I loathed The Replacements, the two performances from Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman shone.  I have never rated Keanu Reeves as an actor but my respect has increased over the past two years.  When he rejected Speed 2, the press ridiculed him but he rebounded with The Matrix, winner of four Academy Awards.  Here, Reeves underplays his role and shows that a leader need not necessarily be the most outspoken.

Gene Hackman was equally impressive as coach McGinty.  He’s in a similar position to the replacements in that this is going to be one of his last opportunities to coach at this level.  He’s not loud, he doesn’t shout at the players - he’s there to have fun and it’s invigorating to see a coach played that way.  Hackman also has the honour of closing the film with a line that epitomises the feeling one has for his character - “greatness, however brief, stays with a man.”